Saturday, January 12, 2013

Jack London and me, the 1897 gold rush and other random bits of flotsam and jetsam

I think of all the people and events I share a birthday with, Jack London is my favorite. I read The Call of the Wild and White Fang as a kid, but knew nothing about their author until a few years ago.
 London was the son of a "spiritualist" (his mother apparently channelled the spirit of an Indian chief) and an astrologer, who denied his paternity, causing Jack's mother to become temporarily deranged enough to shoot herself. She recovered and went on to marry a partially disable civil war veteran, but not before she turned the baby over to Virginia Prentiss, a former slave, for safekeeping. The family settled in Oakland, California where Jack went to elementary school, but by the age of 13 he was working 12 - 18 hours a day at a cannery. After borrowing money from his foster mother (Prentiss) he bought a boat and became an oyster pirate... at the age of 13.  
 Four years later, he worked on a sealing schooner bound for Japan, and returned to work various hard jobs before becoming a tramp. He served 30 days in jail in Buffalo, NY for vagrancy, where he was evidently treated like fresh meat by the inmates.
  After all that, at the ripe old age of 18, he returned to Oakland High School and then went on to UC Berkeley. At 21, he quit school and travelled to the Klondike where he gathered most of his material for White Fang and Call of the Wild.

Jack London's story is one of hardship, bad luck, bad choices, grit, determination and (ultimately or posthumously)  success. And even though he was dead by the age of 40, he lived more than many people do in twice that time. I don't know if that same urgency and drive to live a full life is a trait peculiar to Capricorns, or just those born on January 12th, but I'm glad to be counted in with that crowd.
So, here's to you, Jack...and all you other adventurers out there. Cheers!

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